Origins of The Frankenstein Story: ‘Villa Diodati’ Opera

Travel into the past and future with a double feature of Chamber Opera films, presented by The Aviva Players.

The films in the double feature are “Villa Diodati” a screen version of Mira J. Spektor’s opera about Mary Shelley and the origins of her Frankenstein story, and “Libertaria: the Virtual Opera” by Sabrina Pena Young, a futuristic animated tale that may be the world’s first original machinima opera and is certainly one of the few animated comic book operas.

The evening is the second part of the Aviva Players’ 40th Anniversary Series to be presented this fall at Opera America. The three-part series also includes “Songs, Piano Rags & Chamber Music by Women Composers, including the Piano Trio by Fanny Mendelssohn” October 16 and “That Certain Age: Short Operas about Aging with Grace & Humor” December 1. For info on these other concerts, see:

Still from Villa Diodati by Bank Street Films. Hillary Schranz (The Maid) and Angela Leson (Mary Shelley).

Acclaimed Chamber Ensemble

The Aviva Players, an acclaimed chamber ensemble, was founded in 1975 by Artistic Director Mira J. Spektor to research, present and perform the rich repertoire of Chamber Music and Songs by Women Composers of the 12th to 21st Centuries. The ensemble has been heard in concert halls, churches, temples and universities in New York City, the tri-state area and Palm Beach, FL, and has produced three half-hour TV documentaries on Women Composers that are shown frequently on Cable TV and are now available for VCR. (

About “Villa Diodati”

Still from Villa Diodati by Bank Street Films. L: Angela Leson (Mary Shelley), R: Jeremy J. Moore (Lord Bryon).

“Villa Diodati” (:73), composed by Mira J. Spektor with libretto by Colette Inez, features the poetry of notorious Romantic poets Byron, Shelley and Wordsworth.

The plot revolves around the fateful events of of 1816, when Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley penned “Frankenstein” while staying at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva with her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.

A contemporary American couple on a Swiss train find themselves thrown into the past and into the lakefront villa on the dreary summer day when Mary Shelley is creating her monster. Later that night, Mary will be haunted by her creation and also by the ghost of her Mother, the British feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. The famous couples fantasize of ghosts and monsters while privately facing their inner demons. Today the haunted Villa Diodati still stands as a landmark, overlooking Lake Geneva.

The piece was filmed live at the York Theatre at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City in 2012, produced by Gabriel Nussbaum for Bank Street Films, directed for the stage by Rob Urbinati with musical direction by Barbara Ames. It was performed by Rachel Arky, Angela Leson, Mike Longo, Jeremy Moore, Hillary Schranze and Rachel Zadkoff.

Reviewing excerpts of Mira J. Spektor’s opera at Greenwich House Music School in 1993, the New York Times (Allan Kozinn) wrote that the vocal setting “recalled some of the more graceful music in Bernstein’s ‘Trouble in Tahiti'” and characterized as particularly appealing a duet between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, “There is no heaven but my love.”

Reviewing a production in the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2008, Talkin’ Broadway wrote, “Mira J. Spektor (music) and Colette Inez (lyrics) have imbued their show with all the classic elements of success – luxurious love, vibrant-voiced performers, lush poetry, and a visionary director…The unabashedly operatic music wraps you in the warm embrace of the writings timeless romanticism. You’ll probably hear no better musical all this year than Villa Diodati.”

DVD Soon to Be Released by Albany Records

Composer Mira J. Spektor was born in Europe, graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and then studied at Mannes & Juilliard. In 1975, she founded The Aviva Players. She has composed the chamber operas “Villa Diodati,” “Giovanni The Fearless,” “Lady of the Castle,” “The passion of Lizzie Borden” and “The Housewives’ Cantata.” Her film scores include “Double Edge” with Faye Dunaway and music for the PBS-TV documentaries “Art in its Soul” and “Serious Comics” and the new opera-film “Villa Diodati” from Bank Street Films.

She has written many English, French and German Songs heard in the US, Europe & Israel. Ms Spektor has recorded on Westminster, Concert Hall, Guilde International du Disque, Original Cast Records, Capstone and AirPlay. Her memberships include BMI, Dramatists Guild, Opera America, League of Professional Theater Women and NYWC. Her poems are in many small presses and include two poetry collections, “From Seaside Houses” and “The Road to November.” ( and

Production still from Libertaria: The Virtual Opera by Sabrina Pena Young.

About “Libertaria: The Virtual Opera”

“Libertaria: The Virtual Opera” (:55) is an electronic opera set to animation by experimental composer Sabrina Pena Young. It depicts a futuristic dystopia in which a teen named Libertaria escapes the GenTech Factory and teams up with her addict father to defeat reverse-aging geneticists with a cyborg army. The sci-fi thriller was created with Moviestorm, a program for Machinima (a style based on video game animation).

Produced in 2013, it is a world first original machinima opera and also one of the few animated comic book operas. Its score is a combination of traditional musical theater/opera, electroacoustic music and a touch of jazz, with a riveting cinematic soundtrack. Critics have called the production “groundbreaking” and “Wagner 2.0.” With: Joe Cameron, Perry R. Cook, Gracia Gillund, Jennifer Hermansky, Matthew Meadows, Kate Sikora, Gretchen Suarez-Pena and Yvette Teel.

Palm Beach Arts Paper Music Critic Greg Stepanich described the piece, writing “It was a heroic effort, and the level of singing in the animated opera was very high … It sounds like a graphic novel, and it looks like one, especially with its cartoon balloons taking the place of supertitles. As a story, it is very much in line with the good-vs.-evil sci-fi tradition, with the added bonus of a plucky female heroine … There are a good many percussion effects in the opera, and its tone is primarily quite dark and sinister, very much along the lines of a contemporary video game score.”

The production includes a live international cast and film crew, virtual choirs, sound synthesis, and contemporary choral writing. It was produced entirely online using crowdsourcing, social networking, and the Internet.

The film’s website is

Composer/film maker Sabrina Pena Young has had works performed at the Beijing Conservatory, the International Computer Music Conference, Miramax’s Project Greenlight, the Athena Festival, the New York International Independent Film Festival, Art Basil Miami, Turkey’s Cinema for Peace, Art Miami, and Pulsefield International Exhibition of Sound Art, the Holland Animation Film Festival, Australasian Computer Music Confetence, Buffalo’s Women and Arts Festival, and countless venues worldwide. Her recent projects include the social media opera The Village and a recent TED Talk on opera and the Internet at TEDxBuffalo.

The films are presented on November 4, 2015 at 7:00 PM at Opera America, 330 Seventh Ave. (at 29th Street) by Aviva Players and Bank Street Films. Tickets are $10. For more information and to purchase tickets go to SMARTTIX, 212-868-4444,

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.